This Is an Emotional Heat Check: Kanye West

Inez and Vinoodh

Kanye West has a new song, a collaboration with Paul McCartney. It’s called “Only One.” It’s him singing to himself, and that should be terrible, except he’s singing to himself like he’s his deceased mother, and that’s very emotional, and also he’s singing to himself like he’s his mother reminding him to make sure to talk to his daughter about her, and basically what I’m saying is that I for real started crying when I was listening to it. The song is vulnerable and brave and introspective and warm and kind of wobbles and wanders around a bit, which is good because that’s exactly how that scenario would play out as a conversation if it weren’t a song. Kanye is great. Even when he is being a dick, he is still great, or at least interesting, and always emotional. So this is Emotional Heat Check: Kanye West.

A heat check is (mostly) a basketball term. It’s used to reference a shot attempt, specifically a difficult one attempted after a handful of easier, wiser shots have been made. Think on it like this: You make a layup, then you make a wide-open midrange jumper, then you make a wide-open 3-pointer. That’s great. Those are smart shots. You’re feeling very good about yourself and all the decisions you’ve made in life that have led you to that point, so the next time down court you receive the ball and then chuck up a 29-foot fadeaway. That’s the heat check. You are literally checking to see if you are figuratively hot. If you make it, you shoot again. If that goes in, then you do it again. And again. And again. Until you miss. Each make becomes exponentially more exciting and intriguing and more of an accelerant.

That’s what this is, except it’s an emotional heat check instead of a basketball one, and instead of a basketball player it’s Kanye, and instead of shot attempts it’s a response to a situation. Here’s his chart:


At the Rim: 0/1, zero percent

This was the time Kanye was on Kris, Kris Jenner’s talk show. This should have been a gimme — Kanye’s for-real famous and he was being interviewed by his mother-in-law, who is fake famous but wants to be for-real famous very, very badly, and so she lobbed a bunch of softballs because she doesn’t understand anything about anything. Kanye knew how ridiculous the whole thing was and knew he was going to get shredded for it, so the whole thing was just super weird, made especially so because he decided to do the whole interview using his “white voice.” Here:

This was a miss.

Straightaway 3: 2/2, 100 percent

1. This was the time he delivered the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line during the Hurricane Katrina relief telethon in 2005. He did this because it took so long for aid to arrive to the people who were still there, many of whom had lost their businesses or homes or, worse still, family members. It was reactionary and impromptu — in an interview with Playboy he said he knew he was going to say something, just not what — and it became a signature moment for him. This was a make. It was weird and uncomfortable but also perfect and necessary.

Semi-related: The very best part of this whole exchange was Chris Tucker when they kicked the camera over to him after Kanye’s line. Poor Tucker. Look at the face he made:


He didn’t know what to do. That’s so great.

2. This was the time Kanye chased down and punched a guy because the guy was shouting very offensive racial abuse at Kim. This is completely acceptable behavior. You are allowed to punch anyone who shouts anything negative at your wife. You’re also allowed to punch anyone who shouts positive things at her, too. This was a make.

Left Wing 3: 2/2, 100 percent

1. This was the time he interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 Video Music Awards after she beat out Beyoncé for Best Female Video. Much as it’d seem like it’s not, this was a make. Kanye’s argument (that Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video was better than Swift’s “You Belong With Me”) was validated when Beyoncé won the award for Video of the Year later that evening. You can’t be the tallest person in the room without also being the tallest woman in the room.

2. This was the time when he gave the digital version of himself a 14-inch penis in the “Black Skinhead” video. Fair warning, here it is.

Sorry to show you that.

This was a make. Every guy’s pretend penis is this intimidating. Praise to Kanye for manifesting his in the creative universe.

Right Wing 3: 1/1, 100 percent

This was that time he was upset with the Bonnaroo show organizers for underestimating how transcendent his Glow in the Dark Tour was and not adequately preparing for it, causing a show start time delay that lasted until after 4 a.m. The only thing anyone really remembers about this is that he called them “squid brains.” This gets counted as a make for creativity. More insults should be creature-based.


Right Elbow 2: 1/1, 100 percent

This was the time he posed as Jesus for the cover of Rolling Stone in 2006. He had the thorns and everything. This is a make because, the last time I checked, Jesus didn’t make an album that got a perfect 10.0 score from Pitchfork. Not even He could perform that miracle.


Left Corner 3: 1/2, 50 percent

1. This was the “You ain’t got the answers, Sway!” radio interview. Miss, miss, miss, miss. This was a mega miss because Sway is a national hero and a true sweetheart and nobody should ever be allowed to yell at him. HE WAS A COMMENTATOR ON STOMP THE YARD. HE IS UNTOUCHABLE.

2. This was the time he told that one paparazzi photographer to never talk and to also tell everyone he knew never to talk and then he smashed the photog’s camera because he just kept right on talking. This was a make. Kanye very clearly laid out the rules. When they were broken, Kanye had to act.

Left Corner 2: 1/2, 50 percent

1. This was the outburst at the 2004 AMAs after he lost, which was probably the first big thing he did before he was even really big. This was a miss because it was the AMAs.

2. This was the time the rollout for the “New Slaves” video included it being played on the side of a building in 66 different cities around the world. This was a make. I don’t know why it was a make, but it was a make. If one of the buildings had been where they held that year’s AMAs, then it would’ve been a miss.


Free Throw Line Jumper: 1/1, 100 percent

This was the time he rented AT&T Park to propose to Kim Kardashian. I guess he needed an entire stadium’s worth of room to fit how important they both are to America and to the world, really. This was a make for being prepared. Being prepared lets the girl know you care about her. Do you know how I prepared when I asked my wife to marry me? I watched the hip-hop solo dance routine Channing Tatum does in Magic Mike, like, 15 times so I could learn all the moves. So instead of getting down on my knee and proposing like a simp, I slid down on the floor and started body grinding. And you will say, “How did she respond?” And to that I say, “She’s my wife, isn’t she?”   

Filed Under: Kanye West, emotional heat check, Kim Kardashian

Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, is a New York Times best seller and is available everywhere.

Archive @ SheaSerrano